Together in the Physical Society

The Finnish Physical Society was established in 1947 and is celebrating its 70 years. The period brought big changes to physics and physicists in Finland. The Physical Society has responded well, via its meetings and journal, making use of social media, Pecha Kucha and this blog.

I joined the Society as a graduate student in the late 1960’s, served on the Board as President in the 1990’s and was recently honored as a Fellow. With strong positive feelings for the Society I am contributing some views concerning the present and future challenges. There are surely other opinions and suggestions – this post will be successful insofar as it stimulates comments and discussion here, at coffee tables and elsewhere.

Did you notice that I am writing in English? Those of you for whom Finnish isn’t second nature probably did. We are fortunate to have many physicists in Finland who came from elsewhere for a short or extended time. They are an essential resource for the physics community and for the Society. We should reach out to all physicists, in a language that all understand. I am happy to note that the Society is indeed moving in this direction.

Using English on the home page, in meetings and communications does not subtract from the task mentioned in the statutes: “kehittää suomenkielistä fysiikan sanastoa”. The Finnish physics vocabulary is best maintained through popular lectures and articles which the Society supports, e.g., in its journal Arkhimedes. In personal communications the language is up to the author.

What is special about the Physical Society – compared to other physics organisations (University departments, research institutes, industry, academies…)? The Society covers all subfields, ranges from fundamental to applied research and technical development, and includes education at every level. It relies on the volunteer activities of its members, young and old, with varied interests and expertise. The Society brings cohesiveness to our community, counteracting tendencies toward specialization and insulation. We might not go abroad to learn about topics outside our own expertise, but can enjoy them at the Physics Days, together with old and new friends.

The annual Physics Days is a flagship activity of the Society that we can be justly proud of. The program reflects recent progress in basic and applied research, and the participants represent Finnish physics in a broad sense. This successful concept has gradually evolved, with the talks now mostly given in English. Meetings on specific topics and increased travel give young physicists also other opportunities to present their work. The mission of the Physics Days as an interdisciplinary event for Finnish physicists is correspondingly growing. A format with general review talks in the parallel sessions was recently tried, in order to attract participants to sessions outside their own speciality. Alternatively, the meeting could be focussed more on plenary sessions. The format of the Physics Days should be continuously developed to optimally serve the evolving needs of physicists.

Opening ceremony of the 49th Annual Meeting of the Finnish Physical Society, organized at Helsinki Congress Paasitorni in March 2015. The conference was held under the theme “Exploration and Discoveries”.

Another flagship is the quarterly member journal Arkhimedes, published jointly with the Physical Society in Finland (sic) and the Finnish Mathematical Society. There were heated debates in the 1980’s concerning the scientifically inclined Arkhimedes vs. Fysiikka Tänään, a new journal stressing topical information. After some years of parallel publication the two were merged into the present-day Arkhimedes, which has an extended news section and articles that everyone (in principle) can follow. I have two suggestions for Arkhimedes:

  1. Make past, current and future issues available to members on the web
  2. Introduce a section with profiles of Finnish physicists. Base them on brief interviews conducted in a standardized format by young physicists.

What attracts young physicists to the Society? Academic studies and careers are increasingly formalized. Fast progress, funding success, publications and citations are rewarded. The fascination for science which motivates high school students to study physics at university level is precious and needs to be stimulated. As a graduate student I enjoyed the weekly extracts of science news published by CERN. Today brief descriptions of new discoveries with links to the original publications can be found in many places. The Society could organize volunteers to translate news items into Finnish and make them known to students, e.g., via social media. Such an effort might be appreciated by physics teachers at schools as well.

The Finnish Physical Society is networked with sister societies in the Nordic and Baltic region, in Europe and globally. These contacts are valuable for physicists in the beginning of their careers. Awareness of physics activities in our region would be furthered by occasionally sharing articles with Nordic and Baltic society journals similar to Arkhimedes. Links to the sister journals could be posted on the home page – part of their material is open source already now.

EPS Young Minds information booth at the night flea market Konstanz/Kreuzlingen. The organization gathers together young scientists to develop scientific, network and outreach activities. Finland has its own local section Finnish Young Minds under the Finnish Physical Society. (Image: http://www.epsyoungminds.org)

I was in Executive Committee of the European Physical Society in the 2000’s, experiencing the rewards and challenges of European collaboration. EPS is an umbrella organisation to which all national society members belong, and which thus coordinates and represents physics in Europe. At the same time, EPS is a physical society in its own right, with individual members and a broad range of activities conducted in divisions and groups. These activities are open to all of us and have expanded greatly since EPS was founded in 1968. The member journal “Europhysics News” has a circulation of 25000 copies, with open access to the pdf version. EPS also publishes a web-based monthly news forum e-EPS, as well as regular scientific journals (EPL and European Journal of Physics).

Physics related activities are organised differently in the various European countries. The physical societies of Germany (DPG) and the UK (IOP) have a vastly larger membership than all the others, which requires special considerations. The Finnish Physical Society is similar in size to those of France and Italy, which testifies to its strong position. EPS allows European physicists to be heard at European institutions, including the European Parliament and the European Commission. Our European society needs and deserves support. How about introducing an “EPS lecture” at the Physics Days, with the speaker invited in collaboration with EPS?

Our society also benefits from bilateral collaboration with other national societies. Recently an “IOP Finland Chapter” was established. Strategies related to the role of physics in society, education and industry are issues of common interest and vigorously pursued by the big societies with large resources. Studies on the impact of physics in various areas society published by EPS and its member societies could be presented and debated also in Finland.

My congratulations to the Finnish Physical Society for 70 successful years in support of physics in Finland, and best wishes for the coming decades!

Paul Hoyer
Emeritus professor
University of Helsinki

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